- Original Text: Robert Browning, Men and Women,
2 vols. (1855.) Rev. 1863.
- First Publication Date: 1855.
- Representative Poetry On-line: Editor, I. Lancashire; Publisher,
Web Development Group, Inf. Tech. Services, Univ. of Toronto Lib.
- Edition: 3RP 3.146. й F. E. L. Priestley and I.
Lancashire, Dept. of English (Univ. of Toronto), and Univ. of Toronto Press
(See Edgar's song in Shakespeare's King Lear.)
My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
5 Suppression of the
glee that pursed and scored
6 Its edge, at one
more victim gained thereby.
7 What else should he be set
for, with his staff?
8 What, save to waylay with
his lies, ensnare
9 All travellers who might find
him posted there,
10 And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like
11 Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,
13 If at his
counsel I should turn aside
14 Into that ominous tract
which, all agree,
15 Hides the Dark Tower. Yet
16 I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
18 So much as
gladness that some end might be.
19 For, what with my whole
20 What with my search drawn out
thro' years, my hope
21 Dwindled into a ghost not fit to
22 With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
24 My heart made,
finding failure in its scope.
25 As when a sick man very near to
26 Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and
27 The tears and takes the farewell of each
28 And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside ("since all is o'er," he saith,
the blow fallen no grieving can amend";)
31 While some discuss if
near the other graves
32 Be room enough for this, and
when a day
33 Suits best for carrying the corpse
34 With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
And still the man hears all, and only craves
36 He may
not shame such tender love and stay.
37 Thus, I had so long
suffered in this quest,
38 Heard failure prophesied so
oft, been writ
39 So many times among "The Band"--to
40 The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
Their steps--that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now--should I be fit?
43 So, quiet as
despair, I turned from him,
44 That hateful cripple, out
of his highway
45 Into the path he pointed. All the
46 Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
to the plain, after a pace or two,
51 Than, pausing to
throw backward a last view
52 O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey
plain all round:
53 Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
I might go on; nought else remained to do.
So, on I went. I think I never saw
56 Such starved
ignoble nature; nothing throve:
57 For flowers--as well
expect a cedar grove!
58 But cockle, spurge, according to their
59 Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You'd think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
62 In some
strange sort, were the land's portion. "See
63 Or shut
your eyes," said Nature peevishly,
64 "It nothing skills: I cannot
help my case:
65 'Tis the Last Judgment's fire must cure this
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free."
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
hope of greenness? 'tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
76 One stiff blind horse, his
every bone a-stare,
77 Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!
Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
83 I never saw a brute I
84 He must be wicked to deserve such
85 I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
88 Ere fitly I
could hope to play my part.
89 Think first, fight afterwards--the
90 One taste of the old time sets all to
91 Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
94 An arm in mine to
fix me to the place
95 That way he used. Alas, one night's
96 Out went my heart's new fire and left it
97 Giles then, the soul of honour--there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest men should dare (he said) he durst.
the scene shifts--faugh! what hangman hands
101 In to his breast a parchment?
His own bands
102 Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and
103 Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
105 No sound,
no sight as far as eye could strain.
106 Will the night send a howlet or a
107 I asked: when something on the dismal flat
to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
109 A sudden little river
crossed my path
110 As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
112 This, as it
frothed by, might have been a bath
113 For the fiend's glowing hoof--to see
114 Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and
115 So petty yet so spiteful! All along
scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
117 Drenched willows flung
them headlong in a fit
118 Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
river which had done them all the wrong,
120 Whate'er that was,
rolled by, deterred no whit.
121 Which, while I forded,--good saints, how
122 To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
124 For hollows,
tangled in his hair or beard!
125 --It may have been a water-rat I
126 But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's
127 Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
129 Who were the
strugglers, what war did they wage,
130 Whose savage trample thus could pad
131 Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage--
133 The fight must so have seemed
in that fell cirque.
134 What penned them there, with all the
plain to choose?
135 No foot-print leading to that horrid
136 None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
137 Their brains, no
doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
138 Pits for his pastime,
Christians against Jews.
139 And more than that--a furlong on--why,
140 What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel--that harrow fit to reel
142 Men's bodies
out like silk? with all the air
143 Of Tophet's tool, on earth left
144 Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of
145 Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
148 Makes a thing and then
mars it, till his mood
149 Changes and off he goes!) within a rood--
Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.
blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
152 Now patches where
some leanness of the soil's
153 Broke into moss or substances
154 Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
155 Like a
distorted mouth that splits its rim
156 Gaping at death, and
dies while it recoils.
157 And just as far as ever from the end!
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
160 A great black bird,
Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
brushed my cap--perchance the guide I sought.
163 For, looking up, aware
I somehow grew,
164 'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given
165 All round to mountains--with such name to
166 Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
167 How thus
they had surprised me,--solve it, you!
168 How to get from them
was no clearer case.
169 Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God knows when--
In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then,
172 Progress this way. When, in the
173 Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts--you're inside the den!
175 Burningly it came on me
all at once,
176 This was the place! those two hills on the
177 Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in
178 While to the left, a tall scalped mountain . . . Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
180 After a life spent
training for the sight!
181 What in the midst lay but the Tower
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
184 In the whole world.
The tempest's mocking elf
185 Points to the shipman thus the unseen
186 He strikes on, only when the timbers
187 Not see? because of night perhaps?--why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
189 The dying
sunset kindled through a cleft:
190 The hills, like giants at a hunting,
191 Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,--
stab and end the creature--to the heft!"
193 Not hear? when noise was
everywhere! it tolled
194 Increasing like a bell. Names in my
195 Of all the lost adventurers my peers,--
such a one was strong, and such was bold,
197 And such was fortunate, yet
each of old
198 Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of
199 There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
one more picture! in a sheet of flame
202 I saw them and I knew them all. And
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
204 And blew.
"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."
- Composition Date:
- Jan. 1852
- The title of the poem, and in Browning's own account the source of the
theme, is spoken as a line of nonsense by the disguised Edgar in King
Lear (at the end of III, iv).
- "Childe" indicates a candidate for knighthood, the medieval sense being "a
- estray: a tame beast found wandering or without an owner.
- calcine: made friable by means of heat.
- bents: blades of stiff grass.
- as to: as if to.
- Pashing: smashing.
- colloped: ridged with lumps like collops of meat.
- dragon-penned: winged like a dragon.
- nonce: occasion.
- the fool's heart. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God"
- slug-horn: usually explained as a corruption of slogan, used here
by Browning in the mistaken idea that it means a horn. Chatterton made this
mistake in his Battle of Hastings, II, 10: "Some caught a slughorne and
an onset wound." But there is the hyphenated word slug-horn, meaning a
short and ill-formed horn of some animal of the ox kind. It is possible that
Browning used the word in this sense. To have a misshapen horn hanging at the
gate would be in keeping with the other features of the poem.